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Mask Book Reviews

African Masks: From the Barbier-Mueller Collection

African Masks: From the Barbier-Mueller Collection, Geneva


Mysterious, graceful, and majestic, the African mask has long been the subject of great fascination for those interested in tribal civilizations and cultures.

Now available in paperback, this beautiful volume presents nearly 250 of the finest African masks from the incomparable Barbier-Mueller Collection, which is unique in its vast number of masterpieces and wide geographic scope.

The book includes one hundred color plates accompanied by in-depth descriptions, as well as numerous black-and-white photographs of the masks as they are used in religious and secular celebrations.

An introductory text by renowned scholars describes how the masks are constructed, examines their significance in African culture, and offers insight into the universal practice of masquerading.

A unique contribution to literature on African art, this book is also a wonderful introduction to countless fascinating, ages-old spiritual traditions still being practiced today. From Barnes and Noble web site African Masks: From the Barbier-Mueller Collection, Geneva
African Masks: From the Barbier-Mueller Collection, Geneva

Paper Mask Making

Paper Mask Making Michael Grater Dover Publications Inc. New York ISBN 0-486-24712-D

This book was first published in 1967. When I took up my first teaching post, teaching Art and Craft in a middle school, it was on my book shelf.

As someone who had never made mask before it lead me through the stages of learning how to make animal masks for the annual Christmas Nativity Plays. The beauty of paper is that it is one of the most available of materials. It comes in a range of thicknesses, qualities and colours and ultimately it is very easily worked.

The book combines the features of paper with simple designs to get you started. As it progresses the designs become more complex. I have always found after a little trial and error even the most complex masks become accessible. I always try them out in ordinary printer paper until I understand the construction.

Why do I recommend this book to you? Simple, it is great to use with children of all ages. I have used it on my mask making courses with teachers. Everyone that has come across it has found something in it to inspire or help them with ideas.

Whenever I start a mask making course I begin by working from a piece of printer paper. Using scissors I rapidly transform it into a face following some ideas I gained from the book.

It may have been around for nearly 40 years, the illustrations may seem dated, but it has ideas to be developed or simply copied. It is an essential addition to any mask makers library or any art department book shelf. It only costs $7.95 US. or £7.95 UK.

The Barnes and Noble link is below

Paper Mask Making
Paper Mask Making

Masks of Black Africa

Masks of Black Africa by Ladislas Segy

Dover Publications

Isbn 0-486-23181-X

This well illustrated book is to my thoughts a classic. It is a catalogue of the styles of masks found in the countries on the West Coast of Africa. The informative introductory text gives a back around to the types and styles. Segy classifies the masks as to their types and usage.

What makes the book so good though is the illustrations. On initial viewing the pictures are grainy black and white. Look beyond for they are clear illustrations of a massive range of masks. In fact there are 260 individual photographs. Each one clearly showing a specific style of mask.

Between the two parts of the book the written and the visual you have a fantastic over view of masks of this area. Also most of the masks are old danced masks from quality collections.

It has Dogon,


Bambara, Ashanti and more.

I use this book whenever a mask crops up that I do not know the originating tribe or area. I can only recommend it.

Barnes and Noble stock it at $16.95.

Masks of Black Africa
Masks of Black Africa

Dover Publications

Just a note on Dover publications. Dover have a collection of books on art subjects of many kinds.

Before clip art their books were an invaluable source of copyright free source from many eras and

cultures. For teaching I found them an invaluable source of images for students to use.

They also buy reprint rights to out of print books such as my favourite Paper Masks Making book

(reviewed last month ) and the one reviewed above.

Check them out at:


Masks the Art of Expression

Masks The Art of Expression edited by John Mack. British Museum Press 1994. ISBN 0-7141-2530-X. 224 pages with 150 colour plates.

I forget how long I have owned this book. But you can tell it has been lovingly worn. It has been in my book box at many mask courses and recommended to many people. Even if you don't read the text just buy it for the pictures.

It is a large book about 22x28 cm, lavishly illustrated with high quality colour pictures. As the photographs all come from the British Museum then you can appreciate the quality. Their collection of mask is represented right through form Egyptian death mask to more recent Noh masks. Each mask being of the highest quality, as one would expect from a world renowned museum.

When I have a question this is often the book that I turn to. First the pictures help with some identification and then the text offers further support.

The writers are mostly British Museum curators or ex-curators. Each one having an expertise in a particular area. John Mack the editor being knowledgeable in African traditions. JCH King having deep knowledge of North American traditions.

The book is arranged in eighth sections covering masking in

Africa Oceania Mexico and Highland South America Northwest Coast of America Japan Ancient Greece and Rome Ancient Egypt Europe

Whilst not a specialist book it covers many intriguing aspects of masks and is a good starting point for a collection of books on masks.

For a general reader this could be the one book that you would want.

Highly recommended.

IB May 2005

Spirit Faces

Another of my favourite books is Spirit Faces.

Spirit Faces, by Gary Wyatt

Thames and Hudson

ISBN 0-500-27800-8

£ 12.95 in the UK.

If you love, as I do, West Coast North American native masks this is an essential book to have. It is a collection of colour photographs of modern mask with a brief commentary on each.

The introduction gives a brief background to the area, history and revival of the arts of this area. You may or may not, know that the art and culture of this area was severely repressed. At times brutally and cruelly. The revival began with exhibitions in the 1940's.

Now there is a thriving art world in this area using traditional forms and themes developing as the artists realise new ambitions.

The rest of the book is divided into three sections

Narrative Masks

Clan and Crest Masks

Shaman and Transformation Masks

Followed by biographical notes on each artist.

The book features 23 contemporary artists including

Bruce Alfred

Joe David

Beau Dick

Tim Paul

Art Thompson

To name but a few.

Each one of the 75 vibrant photographs is supported by comments from the artist. It helps the reader, giving insight into the mind of the artist and his thoughts on his work.

If you don't have this book in your collection check it out and see what I mean. I'm sure it will become a favoured feature of your book collection.

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